I’ve just written a bit over at the Scholars’ Lab blog about how excited I am to be observing and learning alongside the second cohort of the Praxis Program. If you haven’t yet read the introductory posts by the new Praxis members, make sure you do! It’s going to be a great year.
First came the brazen academic job ads from CSU and Harvard; then came the announcement that Emory is drastically cutting undergraduate and graduate programs. Selfishly, on days like this, knowing that I’ve decided not to deal with the academic job market floods me with relief. I’m sending my best thoughts to all my friends and colleagues who are braving it. Meanwhile, SCI’s work on graduate education seems more timely than ever, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Update: Because others have written on both of these issues more thoughtfully than I have, check out their posts if you want to know more.
[cross-posted at scholarslab.org]
I’m pleased to announce that the Scholarly Communication Institute is conducting a study on career preparation in humanities graduate programs. As part of this study, we have launched two confidential surveys: the first is for people on alternative academic career paths (that is, people with graduate training in the humanities and allied fields working beyond the professoriate); the second survey is for their employers. The surveys will be open until October 1, 2012.
Humanities scholars come from a wide array of backgrounds and embark on a variety of careers in areas like libraries, museums, archives, higher education and humanities administration, publishing, research and technology, and more. SCI anticipates that data collected during the study will contribute to a deeper understanding of the diversity of career paths we pursue after our graduate studies, while also highlighting opportunities to better prepare students for a range of careers beyond the tenure track.
The surveys complement the public database that we recently created as a way to clarify the breadth of the field, and to foster community among a diverse group. If your work represents the diversity of the broad #alt-ac community, it’s not too late to tell us about yourself!
The surveys and directory are being administered as part of the Scholarly Communication Institute’s current phase of work — which includes a close concentration on graduate education reform (largely in the North American context) and the preparation of future knowledge workers, educators, and cultural heritage and scholarly communications professionals.
The survey results will help us to make curriculum recommendations so that graduate programs may better serve future students, and anonymized or summarized data will be made available at #alt-academy at a later date. Please contact me if you’d like to know more.
I’ve been tuning in to conversations about “#alt-ac” — both the concept and the phrase itself — as much as I can lately as I prepare to launch SCI‘s survey of #alt-academics (more on that very soon). What I’ve noticed is that while the concept is something that people are eager to talk about, and while the term itself has both expanded in meaning and proven useful beyond what Bethany Nowviskie initially imagined, there’s also a certain degree of discomfort with the phrase. Some find that it perpetuates an unfortunate (and false) binary of career options — which, of course, is exactly what it was meant to alleviate. Others simply don’t find that the term resonates for them, considering it too narrow, or redundant with existing categories (primarily public humanities). Still others have expressed concern that #alt-ac is being held up as an unrealistic panacea for the perpetually abysmal job market, yet without necessarily creating new jobs.
These critiques are all valid. Personally, I have found that despite its limitations, #alt-ac is useful as a starting point for conversations about a wide range of issues related to graduate education. I don’t expect the term to be around forever, and I think it’s impossible to try and define the borders of the constellations of #alt-ac communities with much clarity. But I also think that this slight unease and ambiguity is a part of what can help us (as the academic, #alt-academic, or other allied communities) clarify our own thinking on what our academic training means and why it’s valuable.
For me, the most useful move that the term allows is the reframing of what is meant by the term “academic.” Anyone who has completed a PhD or other advanced degree is an academic by training, and brings an academic approach to whatever work she takes on. However, in terms of career possibilities, “academic” tends to signify one thing only: the professoriate. But as is abundantly clear, scholars are working all over the place — in cultural heritage institutions like libraries, museums, and archives; in governmental positions; as journalists and consultants. The positions themselves don’t necessarily make an individual an academic, but neither does an individual cease to be an academic in any of these roles. The academic is the person, by way of the training he or she has received, as well as the style of work — but the term’s narrower signification of someone employed within the professoriate often remains the more immediate reference.
#Alt-academic, then, is not so much a specific job, career, or field, but rather an approach: a way of seeing one’s work through the lens of academic training, and of incorporating scholarly methods into the way that work is done. It means engaging in work with the same intellectual curiosity that fueled the desire to go to graduate school in the first place, and applying the same kinds of skills — be they close reading, historical inquiry, written argumentation, or whatever else — to the tasks at hand. It doesn’t mean an all-new type of work that will heal the problems of the job market. (Issues surrounding the academic labor market are pervasive and serious; they merit a thorough discussion that is beyond the scope of this post.)
The responses that people have provided in the #alt-ac database are telling, as they often underscore the ways in which individuals apply their academic training to unusual roles. I expect that we’ll gain much deeper insight through the upcoming survey, and I look forward to the conversations that the resulting data will provoke. Stay tuned!
I’m happy to announce that a census of alternate academics, the first public-facing component of my work with the Scholarly Communication Institute, is now open to contributions. If you have graduate training in the humanities and work outside of the tenure track, I’d like to warmly invite you to add your information to the growing database. Not #alt-ac? Check out the report to learn more about who we are and what we do.
As I discussed in an earlier post, the census has a dual purpose: First, it will serve the many individuals who are employed in (or considering) alternate academic roles by showing the breadth and depth of career trajectories that can follow graduate work in the humanities. The resulting database may help people to discover others with shared interests, find potential project collaborators, or open up new lines of inquiry. Second, it serves as an important first step towards the survey that SCI will conduct, which aims at better understanding career preparation and #alt-ac employment in relation to humanities graduate programs.
I’d like the database to be as broad and truly representative as possible, which means I’ll need help in extending its reach. Please forward the link widely and encourage the #alt-academics you know to contribute–the database becomes more useful as more people join in.
This census is part of a suite of new content and features at #Alt-Academy; the announcement is restated below. Please read, contribute, and circulate!
We are very happy to announce a new phase of publication at #Alt-Academy, an open-access online project at MediaCommons. #Alt-Academy was launched last summer with 24 essays by 33 authors, highlighting the role of “alternative” academic professionals in the humanities and related fields. The four projects joining #Alt-Academy today promise to open the publication to an even richer and more diverse set of voices.
- “Who We Are,” a census of the community, led by Dr. Katina Rogers, who is also (with the Scholarly Communication Institute) conducting a survey of graduate preparation for alternative academic careers: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/who-we-are
- “Visible Margin,” a forthcoming regular publication of the site, edited by Drs. Polina Kroik and S. Miller. Visible Margin will feature creative and critical work by PhDs, graduate students, and alternative academics: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/visible-margin
- “Getting There 2,” a second “Getting There” cluster for #Alt-Academy, offering practical pathways, signposts, and advice for people considering alternative academic careers. This cluster will be edited by Dr. Brian Croxall: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/pieces/cfp-getting-there-2
- and “Alt-Ac Goes Entrepreneur,” a new cluster to be edited by Dr. Daveena Tauber, examining the role of entrepreneurialism in academic training, the knowledge economy, and the alternative academic community: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/pieces/cfp-alt-ac-goes-entrepreneur
Like everyone, I began January with the best of intentions. My resolution — to write (something, anything!) or take a photo each day — seemed alluringly modest. January was good. February was, too. I saw no reason why I shouldn’t be able to keep going, month after month.
But then, March happened. March, when I changed jobs, and A. and I bought our first home, bringing huge amounts of change to our lives. And suddenly, my goal slipped quietly to the comfy back burner where most resolutions live out their days. The bottom line is that I haven’t been writing much these last few weeks, in part because there’s been so much to do, and in part because I’ve been spending a good deal of time absorbing new information and ideas. It has been a receptive time more than a productive one, intellectually speaking.
So, I’ve been reading and thinking and
organizing fixing bookshelves, and took a quick trip to the University of Virginia to check out the actual, physical Scholars’ Lab (my reward for enduring a full-day HR marathon). I have new projects percolating and new responsibilities crystallizing. I am notoriously impatient with transitions — I cannot live in an in-between state for long — so changing both work and home at the same time has taken up a lot of mental energy. The trip to UVa was great in many ways; for one thing, it made the transition to SCI seem a bit more complete, which should help me to stop fussing about changes and spend my energy in more productive ways.
With that, I’m diving into the work. One project — which I’m quite excited about — involves taking a census of people who think of themselves as alt-academics in order to create a directory of the many individuals that work outside of the tenure track. It’s important to me that the census include not only the wonderfully vocal and visible advocates of the alt-ac community, but also the quieter voices that are outside of the Twitter conversations and MLA panels. As I have written about in previous posts, I think (and hope!) such a directory will be hugely valuable for people who are considering, or are already on, career paths that are alt-ac in nature.
The value, I think, will come from a few things: first, I hope that as people demonstrate their willingness to self-identify in an open and public way, the uncertainty and/or stigma that others in similar positions may feel will begin to dissipate. Second, it will be great to see the diversity of career paths that the humanities community has undertaken. Third, the actual names and affiliations may help other alt-ac folks to make connections and perhaps seek out useful allies. Finally, the database will help SCI in our goal of administering a survey of alt-academics in order to determine opportunities for improved career preparation and refined methodological training in humanities programs.
In all, I hope that the directory and the survey will both help the humanities community to have better data to work with, so that we can move beyond the anecdotal and dispel myths in favor of more concrete understanding about our shared field and the opportunities it affords. Alt-academics reading this post, that means you’ll be hearing from me in the not-too-distant future. I know many people have thought a lot about these issues, so one thing I’ll be doing is seeking input about who to seek out for the census/directory that I might not otherwise know about, and also what questions I should be sure to ask on the survey. I’ll post more about that as planning for the project progresses, but in the mean time, please do feel free to get in touch if you have ideas to share or questions to raise. (Also, I’ll be posting from time to time on the Scholars’ Lab site, so watch for updates there, too.)
I am thrilled to announce that for the next eighteen months, I’ll be joining the fantastic crew at the Scholarly Communication Institute! I’m honored to join Bethany Nowviskie and her team on the current phase of SCI’s work: namely, assessing and rethinking methodological training in the humanities; helping to work on the framework of the stellar Praxis Program at the Scholars’ Lab; and contributing to the continued development of new-model scholarly publications. (For a fuller description, including more detail on the organizations we’ll be working with, see this Scholars’ Lab post.)
This new step marks an exciting transition for me. Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with Josh Greenberg to develop the Sloan Foundation’s budding Digital Information Technology program. In doing so, I’ve gotten to meet extraordinary people working on innovative projects related changes in scholarly communication in the digital age. In my new position with SCI, I’ll be focusing on a number of the same questions, but from a perspective grounded in the humanities. I’m also looking forward to working more deeply on #alt-ac issues, which I deeply care about (as these two posts reveal).
It will be an intense 18 months that I’m sure will be over too quickly. I can’t wait to dive in!